Scott Holmgren ::
I met Colonel James Wilhite a few years back. He was the guest speaker at our local West Point Parents Club's annual "Hail & Farewell" Luncheon. My son had graduated high school and was gearing up for R-Day and Cadet Basic Training - Beast Barracks - as an incoming Cadet Candidate at the Unites States Military Academy at West Point. "Hail & Farewell" is when the parents club celebrates the newly commissioned Second Lieutenants that have just graduated from the Academy who live in the area and congratulates the local high school graduates who will shortly embark on their journey to West Point.
Jim had been invited to share his experiences in Afghanistan. Like most Americans, my perspective on our military's involvement was limited to news sound bites and internet headlines with an occasional article tossed in from time to time. National support would waffle, but ultimately it was sliding towards an unpopular war.
And now my son was heading into the proving ground for our country's future military leaders. As a parent, I could not help begin to wonder, "what has he gotten himself into?"
But then Jim began to speak.
What I heard was not a gloom and doom lament over misguided strategies, not a condemnation of an administration's actions, not a verdict on the wisdom or lack thereof to get involved in a land war in Asia.
No. It was a story I had never heard. And one I almost didn't believe was true if it were not for the tenacious gentleman from Oklahoma who bared his spirit and narrated an amazing account of overcoming impossible odds and vehement opposition to a mission that ultimately fell on his shoulders.
He had been tasked to build a national military academy for Afghanistan that was modeled on West Point.
And he had no budget and no full-time staff.
Not even a wizard's staff would have been much help.
As I listened to his account - how he was ordered to active duty in his late fifties while teaching at a local university, how his wife stared straight through him in disbelief when he told her the news, how he arrived in the shadows of the Hindu Kush with no specific orders and dependent on translators for vital communications - I kept asking myself, "Why have I not heard about this?"
It was an amazing story of ingenuity, perseverance, humility, compassion, determination, and selflessness that buoyed my perspective on not only Afghanistan but also our military's role in projecting freedom and democracy to the world.
Afterwards, I bought a copy of his book and thanked him for sharing his story. As I shook his hand, there was a pull on my spirit as well...
How could more people hear this story?
Kabul, Afghanistan in 2011.
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Colonel James Wilhite